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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

GOLD COMES FROM OUTER SPACE




To paraphrase Carl Sagan (above from an article reporting that he regularly smoked marijuana--and was an advocate for legalization…again, he was ahead of his time):

We are all star stuff, and our jewelry is colliding-star stuff.

Gold is expensive because it is rare.  Why is there so little gold?  Here is how we got our gold (very simplified version):

  1. First you need a very massive (at least ten times larger than our Sun) star.
  2. This star has to explode in a supernova event.
  3. The remnant is the smallest and densest star known, a neutron star, which might be ten miles in diameter, but is so dense (many times the mass of our Sun--imagine a Boeing 747 being compressed into a grain of sand) that you see it as a white star.
  4. Ah, but that's not enough.  As violent as this process might be, and certain elements like iron are formed, this is not sufficient to create gold.  
  5. You need a second neutron star, and these neutron stars need to collide.  At each collapse and the collision itself, there is a gamma-ray burst that, if in our galaxy and beamed to Planet Earth, would end all life.
  6. Here is an animated show of this collision.  In one hundredth of a second, the energy released exceeds what our Sun will produce in its 10 billion year lifespan.  It has been estimated that there is such a collision once every year or two in our Universe.  However, our Milky Way Galaxy is so insignificant that gamma-ray bursts only occur here, maybe, once every 100,000 years.  Yet, space is so large, that we can't totally appreciate the enormity, for light, which moves at 186,00 miles/second, takes 100,000 years to pass from just one end of our galaxy to the other.
  7. But the amount of gold produced could be as much as two moon masses.
  8. However, this gold has to find its way to Earth.  Much of the gold we now discover bombarded us in a meteor shower more than 4 billion years ago, around 200 million years after our planet was formed.  Another report says this final gold veneer came 700 million years into our globe's history.
  9. I should mention, though, that our mostly liquified ball had some gold at the beginning, but its density caused most of it to settle into the core.  So much so, actually, that the amount of precious metals like gold and platinum in the center, if laid on the surface, would be 13 feet thick.  Thus, our planet needed to cool and solidify at the surface for this incoming gold to be mined:

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